Black hawk military helicopter lands on WWU campus to pick up Show-Me Gold trainees

Training on the fly

WWU GOLD Officer Candidates get memorable experience traveling to weekend training – on a Blackhawk helicopter

As part of their training as aspiring commissioned officers in the Missouri Army National Guard (MOARNG), the Officer Candidates of the William Woods Show-Me Guard Officer Leadership Development (GOLD) program regularly travel to locations like Fort Leonard Wood or Camp Clark for a few days of advanced field training. But this time, their mode of transportation proved to be quite memorable.

Instead of the standard van, the eight Officer Candidates saw their “ride” to Camp Clark descend out of the sky on the cool, bright morning of Friday, March 22, and land on the University’s soccer practice field. For the first time for most of them in their budding military careers, they would be traveling to their training on a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter.

“I found out through my OIC (officer in charge) that he was getting with an aviation team to set up a Blackhawk ride for us, and to be honest, I was pumped,” said Donovan Brewer ’26, of Elsberry, Mo. “Finding out that it was going to land at school, on the soccer practice field, all my friends were going to see it – it was exciting and elevating.”

Show-Me GOLD students sitting in the black hawk helicopter

For Quentin Stevens ’26, from Quincy, Illinois, it was the second time on a Blackhawk.

“At first, it was up in the air whether or not we were going to get the chance to ride the Blackhawk, including weather, funding – there are a few factors that determine if we are actually able to get it,” Stevens said. “But once we got the approval that 100 percent this was going to happen, I was excited; both times I have ridden on a Blackhawk, it has been an enthralling experience, just awesome.”

Thanks to the supercharged style of transportation, the Candidates’ travel time to Camp Clark, normally a three-hour drive to Nevada in southwest Missouri, became an exhilarating 45-minute odyssey through the early Spring skies. And all of them were fully prepared, thanks to the flight crew from nearby Fort Leonard Wood.

“The crew got with us ahead of time and gave us a safety brief, the captain, the major, the warrant officer, and told us how it would go and what to expect,” said Brewer. “After hearing that from an experienced flight crew, I was ready for the experience, which was a blast, kind of like a roller coaster.”

Show-Me GOLD students of William Woods University listen to the caption give instructions about the black hawk

The William Woods Show-Me GOLD program had been planning to expose the program’s Officer Candidates to a ride on Blackhawk helicopter for at least a year. Weather postponed the experience on the last occasion, in the Spring semester in 2023. This time, after the program leadership made its aviation request once again of the Missouri National Guard, it was approved for March 22. Having a solid strategic partnership between William Woods and the Missouri Army National Guard helped pave the way for the experience, which is a significant benefit for the program’s future officers.

“GOLD is an officer-producing program, so we want to give these future officers every experience we possibly can to ensure that they are ready when they graduate,” said Dr. Scott Zimmerman, Director of the GOLD program and instructor of Military and Leadership studies at WWU. “We don’t want it to be something brand new when they are leading other soldiers, for example, or that it is their first time on a helicopter when they are leading an air assault. We want them to be able to concentrate on their job of leading soldiers as opposed to being on a helicopter for the first time.”

Which is exactly the goal of the field training exercises, which the GOLD Officer Candidates attend to three times a year, including one in each semester and one in the Summer, sometimes with GOLD programs from other Missouri universities.

“Just like in academics, experiential learning is preferred,” Zimmerman added. “When we can have our students having hands-on experience doing the job, or doing the task, it is exceedingly better when you put them in that situation as opposed to lecturing. When we do experiential learning, we can do more than just talking about helicopter operations, now we can actually do it.”

Which means students who opt to enter the GOLD program at William Woods may count on future opportunities to take a ride on one of the Army’s most famous modes of transport.

“When you do something of this magnitude, it makes you appreciate that there is a lot of backwards planning that goes into it,” said Stevens. “Just all the logistics, and making sure that the officer candidates have everything that they need to make it happen. You can’t get on a Blackhawk without your ID tags, ear protection, eye protection. The amount of preparation that is needed for something like this is good planning for what it will be like when leading others.” “It’s almost life-changing, knowing that you can just get into a Blackhawk helicopter just based on your officer in charge scheduling something like this,” said Brewer. “For a program, and university of this size, just being able to have an experience like this has been awesome.”